The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing to withdraw the July 2000 final rule which revised EPA's Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) program under the Clean Water Act. The 2000 rule was determined to be unworkable based on reasons described by thousands of comments and was challenged in court by some two dozen parties.
Ultimately, Congress passed a law prohibiting EPA from implementing the July 2000 rule. Further, the National Academy of Sciences' National Research Council (NRC) issued a report with numerous recommendations for improving the rule and program, which were not reflected in the July 2000 rule.
Criticized by state and local officials as too expensive, the program required states to prepare detailed plans for reducing runoff from stormwater and agriculture. An effective program requires participation and support from all levels of government, said EPA Administrator Christie Whitman.
"In order to ensure that this nation's bodies of water are cleaned up, we need an effective national program that involves the active participation and support of all levels of government and local communities," Whitman said. "Unfortunately, the 2000 rule designed to implement the TMDL program fell short of that goal and others. We have an existing TMDL program and this action will not stop ongoing implementation of that program, development of water quality standards, issuance of permits to control discharges, or enforcement against violators. EPA and states will continue to cooperate to identify impaired waters and set protective standards for those waters. EPA will continue to work diligently on ways to improve this program to ensure that we meet our goal of purer water."
The Clean Water Act requires states to identify waters not meeting water quality standards and to develop plans for cleaning them up. The Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) program provides a process for determining pollution budgets for the nation's waters that once implemented will assure that Clean Water Act goals will be met.
In the meantime, EPA continues to work on improvements to the TMDL program. In 2001 and 2002 combined, more than 5,000 TMDLs were approved or established under the current TMDL rule. The number of TMDLs approved or established annually has steadily increased in the last four years jumping from 500 in 1999 to nearly 3000 in 2002. EPA has been working steadily to identify options to improve the TMDL program, including addressing problems reported by the National Academy of Sciences. The agency has conducted several public meetings and is reviewing its ongoing implementation of the existing program with a view toward continuous improvement and regulatory changes in light of stakeholder input and the NRC recommendations.
EPA Revises Chemical Criteria To Protect Water
EPA has revised its national recommended water quality criteria for 83 chemical criteria to protect human health. These updated criteria supercede any published in EPA's previous criteria compilations including the "Blue Book," "Red Book," "Gold Book" and EPA's last compilation published in April 1999.
The Clean Water Act (CWA) requires EPA to publish and periodically update ambient water quality criteria. These criteria are intended to ". . . accurately reflect the latest scientific knowledge . . . on the kind and extent of all identifiable effects on health and welfare including, but not limited to, plankton, fish, shellfish, wildlife, plant life . . . which may be expected from the presence of pollutants in any body of water . . ."
Water quality criteria developed under section 304(a) of the Clean Water Act are based solely on data and scientific judgments on the relationship between pollutant concentrations and environmental and human health effects. EPA's national recommended water quality criteria are guidance for states and tribes in adopting water quality standards under section 303(c) of the CWA. These water quality criteria are not regulations and do not impose legally binding requirements on EPA, states, authorized tribes or the public.
The revised national recommended water quality criteria may, however, be superceded by the publication of 304(a) criteria after the publication of this update.
The 83 revised human health criteria have been recalculated based on EPA's new methodology entitled, Methodology for Deriving Ambient Water Quality Criteria for the Protection of Human Health (2000) (EPA-822-B-00-004). This is a partial update based on a comprehensive revision of components of the 304(a) criteria. Partial updates represent a way of increasing the frequency of scientific improvements to the nationally recommended criteria. The revised human health criteria specifically integrate the new fish consumption rate of 17.5 grams/day, relative source contribution (RSC) factors obtained from primary drinking water standards, and any new cancer potency factors (q1*s) or reference doses (RfDs) in the Agency's Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS).
The criteria do not incorporate bioaccumulation factors (BAFs), a component of the new methodology. Rather, the criteria rely on bioconcentration factors (BCFs). EPA intends to focus resources on developing BAFs for pollutants that the Agency considers of high priority and national importance, due to the comparative complexity of developing this component. The revised human health criteria are more stringent than those previously published, however, they are consistent with the criteria updates in the recently published compilation.
EPA is separately publishing partial updates for 15 criteria in the Federal Register because the revisions significantly change the numerical values. EPA will accept scientific views on these 15 criteria. This is consistent with the process for publishing criteria previously described in the April 1999 compilation.
EPA's updated national recommended water quality criteria compilation, including the 83 revisions, is available in a report, National Recommended Water Quality Criteria: 2002 (EPA-822-R-02-047). You can find it on the Internet at: http://epa.gov/waterscience/criteria/